This discussion we’ve been having about whether bloggers should get paid for their work is fascinating, and I think it’s pretty great that the whole MwP community here has been so level-headed and thoughtful about it.
There are lots of other people out there getting seriously up in arms about it, though. They’re saying bloggers who ask for payment are betraying their readers, compromising their ethics, and generally being all-around jerks. It’s as though they believed our very moral compass is broken, and that bloggers simply don’t understand how to be in a secure and loving relationship with their readers. To hear them tell it, bloggers who don’t give it away have turned positively abusive.
They are really quite unfriendly about it. Dear me. Such uncouth behavior. I think perhaps it’s time we discussed what is and is not appropriate in blogger-reader relationships, don’t you? Yes, I rather thought so myself.
How Relationships Work
When you’re a tiny little kid and you don’t have any friends yet, the grown-ups around you explain what is and is not friendly behavior. “Friends share with each other.” “Friends play nicely together.” “Friends don’t set each other’s hair on fire OH GOD GET THE BURN OINTMENT!”
Like that. Most of it is totally harmless, and most of it held true as you became an adult and had more complicated relationships. Other people explained what was and was not acceptable behavior for romantic relationships, work relationships, and familial relationships (though everyone mostly ignored the part where you were supposed to be nice to your parents).
What’s more, if you encountered someone who didn’t behave the way you were told they should behave, you decided right away that this person shouldn’t be your friend (or boy/girlfriend, or colleague) anymore.
This is all fairly standard stuff. A lot of you are reading along here thinking, “And? What’s wrong with that?”
Ah, you poor naïve little soul. Everything is wrong with that.
Confusing Action and Intention
While other people were explaining to us how relationships worked, they also explained why they worked that way. The reason they did this is that your formative years are a big time for the “Why?” question. When they told you friends don’t hit, your first reaction was probably not, “Okay, then I won’t hit.”
Your first reaction was probably, “Why?”
And they told you something that would make you stop doing it. “Because mean people hit. Because no one will want to play with you if you hit them. Because hitting isn’t nice.”
They gave you a reason. Forever, in your mind, those two were linked: the action and the reason.
Now, there are lots of other reasons people hit people. Everyone has seen a good man’s man comedy or drama in which the main characters whale the heck out of each other. And it isn’t because they’re mean or because they don’t want to play baseball with each other. It’s because they love each other, man.
Professional fighters fight because they like it. They really, really like it. They enjoy the feeling of winning and getting beat around and beating the other guy worse. They like the glory and the big shiny belts they get to wear. That’s why they hit.
You swatted the dog last week because he did something bad. Not to be mean to him, but so he would pay attention.
Now, most of the time, your initial response is correct. Hitting is usually an indication that the hitter is trying to be mean to the hittee. It is a pretty logical assumption.
But it’s not the only possible reason. Hitting does not equal meanness. Hitting may indicate meanness, but they are not one and the same.
How the #$!!* Does This Apply to Blogging?
My word, what a foul mouth. My mother always told me that people who cussed were ill-bred and not to socialize with them. She also told me that if I see a man I’m dating talking to another woman, he is clearly cheating on me.
Oh, and she told me that if a blogger starts to charge for their content, he’s a greedy, money-grubbing Scrooge.
No, wait. That wasn’t my mother. That was everyone on the internet. Silly me. I always get them confused.
Somewhere along the way, the conventional wisdom decided that any blogger who deemed his advice worthy of payment was contemptible. It’s not true. In fact, it’s ridiculous to assume such a thing. I’m sure there are bloggers out there charging for their content who ARE shameless money-grubbers, but that is by no means the rule.
It’s a little like this. Let’s say I am dating a man, and he is talking to another woman, just like my Mama warned me. Now, it’s possible that my man is cheating on me with this woman, and I’m sure there are men who would do such a thing.
It is also entirely possible that they’re having a nice platonic friendly chat about the Mars landing. If my man is normally a good guy, why would I assume he has bad intentions?
The same applies for a blogger. If this blogger has always pulled out every trick in the book to get money for things totally not worth the price, then it is safe to assume the worst and that he is probably out to scam you.
But if this blogger has behaved very well and has given you great advice for years and years, why would you assume he has the worst of intentions and has suddenly become like that money-grubber scammer?
No One Made You a Deal
The other part of the argument made in the comments of the Blogging Sweatshop post that gets me is that bloggers are betraying their readers by starting to charge for some of their content.
Let’s talk about that word betrayal for a moment.
Betrayal is the breaking or violation of a presumptive social contract, trust, or confidence, says Wikipedia. That basically means you were trusted to do something – keep a secret, deliver a soldier across the border, fulfill a promise – and then you did not do it.
If someone could kindly point out to me where on the web bloggers promised their readers that all content would always be free, I would be much obliged.
This assumption is rather like the one made of that poor gentleman up there, talking blithely away to some other woman and getting into serious hot water with his girlfriend for doing so.
“How could you betray me like that?” she says, and stomps off. Meanwhile, our guy is looking all bewildered, because he never promised his girlfriend he wouldn’t utter a word to another girl so long as he lived. He had no idea that was part of the deal.
Expecting someone to fulfill a promise that you were never actually given by that person is not betrayal.
No one made you a deal. If a blogger wants to change the rules of the game, he or she has every right to do so. It’s certainly courteous to inform readers it’ll happen, and of course if the reader doesn’t want to play by those rules, then that reader doesn’t have to.
Readers are free to accept or deny the terms bloggers offer them.
They cannot tell bloggers what to do, though. They certainly can’t tell bloggers that they’re all betraying, backstabbing bastards for deciding to charge for their content. And they cannot confuse the action of bloggers asking for fair payment in exchange for sound advice with the conclusion that those same bloggers are being complete and utter dicks.
Well, okay, they can. But they look pretty silly when they do.